English Strong Dark Ale / Chestnut Honey
It’s been five long years since we last brewed Bracia, our strong, dark ale. We have brewers on the team here who’ve never even heard of it, let alone tried it, so I’m guessing that there’s plenty of Thornbridge fans out there who haven’t either. Back in 2008, there weren’t that many strong brews available to the UK craft beer drinker and I remember when it was first released, around Christmastime of that year, in chunky, old fashioned 500ml bottles (some would argue the best bottle size you can get). As a huge fan of strong dark beers, I loved it and I looked forward to its occasional release, as did many others. Back when ‘Ratebeer’ was a thing, Bracia scored 100/100, one of very few beers in the world to do so at the time and helped Thornbridge gain international notoriety. It’s safe to say Bracia is a unique brew and, I think, one that helped define Thornbridge as a brewery that is not scared to innovate or push the boundaries of what beer can be.
Bracia was first brewed on the original 10bbl brewkit in the grounds of Thornbridge Hall by the then brew team of Stefano Cossi and Kelly Ryan. Stefano had an idea to use Italian Chestnut honey in a dark beer, allegedly inspired by a Roman inscription at the nearby Haddon Hall, referring to what could have been reference to an ‘old Celtic beverage, that may have been brewed with cereals and honey’. A suitably vague tale, but one that probably helped with the marketing at the time! Whatever the real story, Chestnut honey is potent stuff, with a unique and aromatic taste. It’s mysteriously dark, intensely flavoured and bitter and indeed a genuinely inspirational addition to a rich, potent beer.
Often when we brew a beer, the recipe evolves over time, due to changing tastes, or the seasonality/availability of the raw materials. However, we’ve never deviated from the original recipe brewed all those years ago and we still use the original chestnut honey, sourced from the Alpine foothills of Northern Italy. Stef and Kelly knew that the honey needed to matched with a beer that was heavy on the dark malts, so they used Chocolate, Brown, Munich, Dark Crystal, Black, Roasted Barley and a touch of peated malt (essentially the entire malt cupboard). This meant there were enough roasted, toasted malt flavours for the honey to blend with. Hopping was kept fairly subtle, with the addition of Sorachi Ace to add a touch of coconut aroma to the finish.
Needless to say, this is a rich beer, jet black in colour, with notes of coffee, chocolate, dark fruits and, of course, chestnut honey. Bracia is bottle conditioned straight from the maturation tank with champagne yeast, which adds to the velvety mouthfeel. We age it so it’s perfect to drink now, but it is definitely the kind of beer that matures and evolves over time, so I suggest you hoard a few bottles if you can for tasting later!
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